God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Obamacare, turn the tide and enthusiasm @ AIDS Conference

Sometimes it is only one speech, one moment in time, and one can feel energized again. Sometimes it is just one speech, one moment in time and all tiredness is gone and one starts to focus again. For me, this moment in time happened this morning at the Plenary Session of the World AIDS Conference. Still tired from the long journey I listened to three keynote speaker which really got my mind going.

Introduced by the Nobel Price Laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi from France who was instrumental in discovering the HI virus, the Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health (USA), Anthony S Fauci gave an overview where we are standing in the moment and why we are close to turning the tide of HIV/AIDS. He caught the attention of the audience in describing how sciences and community approach must go together and laid grounds how all facets of prevention and treatment, outreach and bio-approach can take the next steps in eradicating HIV and giving a whole new generation a chance to grow up without the treat of the pandemic.

Next was Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute in Washington – black, gay and HIV positive. His charismatic speech described the plight of black Americans – specially also in the Washington area, where the prevalence rate amongst those with dark skin color are as high as in some areas of South Africa. He made it also very clear to the audience what “Obama-care” means for those US Americans without an expensive health insurance. I felt ashamed listening to his very personal stories thinking that the US American Catholic Bishops attacked the new health care system because amongst others family planing is included in Obama’s approach. Was there ever a thought of balancing all the “Catholic question marks” against the benefits for those, whose lives or deaths are depending on this new law?

Next Hillary R Clinton, who delivered a clear message that after 25 years and the last World AIDS Conference held in the USA in San Francisco her country is now more than ever committed to turn the tide and assist in having a next generation without fear of HIV and AIDS. She also declared her very solidarity to Melinda Gates and announced additional funds of her government for family planing but also circumcision and other projects.

All speakers the morning made it clear that the moment has come to combine all efforts to push the syndrome back, to use all tools to reduce the transmission to the magic “zero”. But also all acknowledged that there will be still quite some time till this goal is reached. But until then, those lesser and lesser in number, who get infected in the coming generation, should be able to receive treatment and support without any discrimination or stigmatization. And it was made clear that this means that all involved from community outreach via faith-based organizations till governments to reflect how one deals with those most in danger of contracting HIV: gay people, drug addicts, prostitutes. And the question remained open during the rest of the session as a challenge to all concerned: What does it mean to go into those fields many people feel uncomfortable to speak about? And specially for me as a Catholic priest remains that question: How do we deal with those moral minefields in today’s atmosphere of theology and pastoral care?

A lot to think of for the first day of the conference and the day has not ended yet…

Turning the tide – now..

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

… what an insight…

Coming closer to the World AIDS Conference, you can read in all Catholic and specially more right-wing Catholic articles about the conference that the expert of Caritas Internationalis, Msgr Robert Vitillo proclaimed that condoms don’t solve the problem of AIDS.  I am amazed and it reminds me lots of sermons I have heard in my life where questions are asked or statements are attacked which nobody really ever had in mind. So I am not sure what drives the media to repeat in sensational ways a statement nobody is anyhow interested in or has ever claimed to be the only solution to the pandemic. Well, it might be that there is the intention to show that the anti-condom Catholic teaching is at the end the right point of view when it comes to AIDS. And it seems that repeating this “insight” makes it one day coming true…
The battle against the pandemic needs all tools we have at hands and when we will look back at the pandemic once the tide is turned we as the church will feel ashamed for rejecting one of the most important tools for “here and now” to prevent new infections. And we might even laugh to see how important that little bit of rubber was, so much so that moral theologian could get into trouble because of it. And I am sure God might laugh too…  –  but we all in the church have to take responsibility for those having followed the rules of the church and got into deadly trouble as a consequence. Life is precious and we are not allowed to bargain with it as cost for a teaching which we all know can and will and has changed over times.

Filed under: General, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arrogance, Condoms and Stupidity

As usual I read through all the headlines of news various news agencies and news services send to my email box.  Even though the news are from all around the world and from totally different topics I am interested in, sometimes one can draw lines between the different headlines and it makes sense or bring at least some meaning to these combinations. To give an example:
The new head of the congregation of faith demanded yesterday the resignation of Markus Löning in Germany. He is not only a Facebook user but also the representative of the German government for human rights. On his Facebook page he posted: to stupid to understand science – then try religion. A clear insult, so felt Bishop Müller and stated, that the man is not right for the task he is asked to perform by the German government. The entry is meanwhile deleted by Löning.

Well, right I though first of all watch out, Facebook can be a dangerous place and easy bring someone into trouble, but coming to the core of the matter: faith and science should be compatible – they are both ways of discovering God’s great plan with us and everything living on this planet.

Reading on I discovered an interview of a very Christian radio station with a Bishop in South Africa, debating the difficulties of Christian Faith and African tradition and also the differences between different tribes. Actually very sensitive answers from the Bishop till the question of HIV and AIDS arises. Of course no question about HIV without the “c” question and the good bishop turns on the heat:
I think the international community is always arrogant to us Africans. They come with readymade solutions. They don’t ask. They know what is right for us as Africans and the condoms are part of that arrogance. I think because people, in their minds, they think that condoms prevent the sickness. It helps spread it because every young person even those who are not aware of sexual activity are taught in the school about this condom in sexual education. They try it and that is why you still have a high rate of people being infected with this AIDS epidemic.

Well, besides all the bad feeling of the bishop against the international community: Science tells us clearly that condoms don’t help spread the pandemic and looking into the very area he is talking about earlier. It is exactly this area where condoms brought down teenager pregnancy almost to zero which means that students can complete their school and have a fair chance in life to get a proper education. Of course condoms are only part of the solution and changing the hearts and minds and behaviour of the youngsters has to be added, but unfortunately this is a long-term goal and we need the students alive and in good health and with a good education to be able to achieve behaviour change.

This interview also let me think of the situation in Uganda and other countries, where right-wing evangelical preachers advise government and tell them, what it means to be “African”. And there nobody is complaining that this is done by outsiders, mainly US Americans.

So, drawing lines between all those news what remains as a conclusion to the reader?

First, I realise that Facebook is read in the highest circles of the church or at least summaries are being brought to their attention.
Secondly, and this is much mor serious, the pain and the feeling of being overpowered by the international community – I guess by the white international community  – has to be taken seriously and into account when we talk about the solutions of problems like HIV and AIDS but also many others.
And thirdly there must be much more exchange between science and faith to bring both on the same level so that they can see in each other eye without feeling superior or inferior.
And last but not least there is more to see to the “African identity” and I agree, the world financial and economic system we have is not always listening or even giving time to consider other concepts of living and the experience of reality.

Quite a lot to think of and to consider for one morning’s news intake…

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Humanae Vitae syndrome

I am used to page every morning I do have access to internet to browse through all the news, obviously as a Catholic priest also through the Catholic news world. And somehow reading through the last months or so brought up the thought that our church is suffering of a sort of “Humanae Vitae syndrome”.  I don’t think I have to mention how ill received the decision of Paul VI was with most of the faithful and generally around the world and even years and decades of Catholic teaching did not change it. It is a reality even our Pope Benedikt XVI acknowledges that Catholics around the world do not obey the rule not to use contraception and have this kind of family planing.
This is by now means a dogma nor put it in doubts the essentials of Christian teaching, believing in God, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. But it seems that this topic is distracting us as the church from being heard or taken seriously in other moral or ethical matters and as a matter fact: never has the majority of faithful embraced or adhered or accepted this vote of Paul VI. The latter makes the teaching even more difficult from a theological point of view. At the end it all has to do with sexuality and it’s connection with sin as proclaimed by Thomas of Aquino and before St. Augustine.

Reading now through the news I just realise how much this question of sexuality is still bordering us as a church and leads us to fights which might be preventable if you just listen to science and new research, the other way of finding God according to our pope  and both cannot contradict each other for this reason.  Melinda Gates, a Catholic is under heavy fire for her campaign to bring contraception and family planing to those areas in the world where poverty is prevalent. The US American Bishops go to court and do a “fortnight for freedom” to battle a health reform which brings so many blessings to Americans. But the questions of contraception overwrite it all, it seems.

Seeing it in the context of sexuality – Scotland’s bishops are gearing up for a fight against same-sex partnerships on the civil side and declaring, that “marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence”. In Australia one can read the same story and in Uganda, the Catholic Church sites with people, who demand the death penalty in the context of same-sex love.

Have a look at the USA again and the battle of the Catholic nuns, specially the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). About 80% of the 57,000 U.S. nuns  and sisters belong to the LCWR. The Vatican announced that the group’s leadership and programming would be taken over by three bishops because their stance on sexual issues are not identical with the teaching of the church. The same applies to the case of Sr Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M and her book”  Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (2006). The Congregation of Faith wrote to the most respected Catholic theologians in the United States: “”Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,”

For myself, I also just want to mention the field of HIV and AIDS where the stance of the Catholic Church does not win her friends despite the fact, that our church is doing so much in this field which is good. To give answer meant to different questions like the condom question which can be in the cases of HIV and AIDS a question of life and death is simply not good enough anymore. And to mention, even as a sideline remark, that condoms aggravate the problem is more than questionable.

I wonder why those topics with sexual connotation are really that important to the faithful that we spend so much time and energy and money and dedication to it. Are there no more important issues? Isn’t it time to reconsider and reconcile our non-dogmatic teaching and put love, faith and hope to the front of our sermons. And acknowledge that we part of civil society, but that civil society is more diverse and has other obligations then we as a church. We can voice our concerns, we can contribute to discussions and we should do so. And otherwise we should concentrate on all those topics where the world is in flames: human rights, dignity, enough food for all, ethics of politics and economics, bio-ethic… – just to name a few.. It is not that those involved and silenced and ignored have the intention of throwing out the whole of moral theology and teaching. Their intention is clearly to enhance the way we see and judge situations in life and to develop our theological and pastoral standing. Or simply to give honest answers to the questions of todays faithful.

And within this context one has to mention the Sensus Fidelium; that is  what the Christian people believe, accept, and reject. The Sensus Fidelium is connected to the promise of Christ to protect us from error with the guidance of the Spirit. Church hierarchy have taught what to believe, accept, and reject, but always with acceptance or a corrective response by theologian and the faithful even from the very beginning, as described in the Act 15. Obviously there has been in increase of faithful till today – so the Sensus Fidelium is a challenge. In conjunction with”Ecclessia semper reformanda” (The church must always be reformed” the challenge becomes even bigger. And maybe here lies the biggest question mark: Is the hierarchy willing to listen, to recognise and honor the fact, that the faithful and the theologian have a major role to play in developing of the theology. And is the Role of the Congregation of Faith not also in facilitating this process instead of only marking where freedom of speech and academic teaching with in the Catholic Church is at it’s very end. So a transformation from “watchdog only” to facilitator of serious dialog in the framework of the Sensus Fidelium.

And nobody should say that the church is not able to change the decision of previous popes. Slavery, democracy, freedom of religious choices are examples how much the church has changed. And Benedikt XVI has done it just now with the words “pro multis” in the Eucharistic prayer – and he argues that we have learned more and most put it into practice. I salute him for his courage and I hope that this also applies to other topics.

We need a serious dialogue, which it looks to me, parts of the German episcopate in their “Dialogprozess” have started. I salute them for this.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Kill the gay” bill receives Catholic support…

The “Kill The Gays” bill is infamous around the world for its provision mandating the death penalty for anyone convicted of “crimes” in the area of  homosexuality, same-sex rape,  “serial offender,” and  HIV/AIDS .
It has been sponsored since 2009 by David Bahati, an MP with clearly visible homophobic tendencies.
The bill is strongly supported by the First Lady Janet Museveni and legislators with close ties to the American religious right. Opposed by the State Department and leaders around the world, it never came to a vote in parliament.

Also the Roman-Catholic Church under Bishop Cyprian Lwanga denounced the bill’s death penalty and imprisonment provisions as a contradiction to a “Christian caring approach” towards the issues. But he also stated: “We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, appreciate and applaud the Government’s effort to protect the traditional family and its values.”His last statement seems now to catch up with him.

The Vatican issued in December 2009 a clear statement denouncing “all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons,” particularly “the murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.”

The bill also includes:

  • A 7-year jail sentence for consenting adults who have gay sex;
  • A life sentence for people in same-sex marriages;
  • Extradition and prosecution of LGBT Ugandans living abroad;
  • The death penalty for adults who have gay sex with minors or people with disabilities, consensual or no, or who communicate HIV via gay sex, regardless of condom usage or consent;
  • Jail for anyone who doesn’t report suspected gay people within 24 hours;
  • A ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality so open-ended that it would endanger HIV/AIDS treatment and sexual health clinics in the country and could effectively exclude gay people from petitioning the courts by making those representing them liable for criminal action;
  • A mandate to break all ties with international commitments and laws opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Now it seems that the stance of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda is now snow from yesterday.

The Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), an ecumenical body which brings together the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches,participants  resolved that the bill  should be brought back to parliament.  The UJCC said that the bill was needed to prevent what they called “an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage.” MP Bahati seems to indicate his belief, that during the process of debating the bill in parliament, the death penalty would be removed from the bill. Certainly a very vague hope for a Catholic Bishop, now calling for the introduction of a bill, he vocally opposed in December 2009 during his broadcasted Christmas message.

This bill is clearly against human rights and the dignity of people – values every Catholic Bishop is called to defend. What ever drives Bishop Cyprian Lwanga – it can never be an excuse and what is remaining is to call on him to retract his support for this bill before it is too late and destroyed lives and blood is on his hands.

 

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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